Clegg's clanger takes its toll on Falcons

Newcastle 16 Worcester 16
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The Independent Online

Newcastle welcomed back one of their big guns as they bade farewell to a dismal 2008 yesterday. Unfortunately for them, it was not the one blessed with sure-fire points-scoring ammunition and steadying presence at outside-half. It is likely to be another two months at least before Jonny Wilkinson follows the comeback trail trodden by the prop Carl Hayman midway through an infuriatingly frustrating fixture for the lowly Falcons.

Steve Bates' side brought an end to a run of five Guinness Premiership defeats but they threw away a victory that might have gone a long way towards preserving their top-flight status. Literally. In attempting to throw a line-out to himself five metres from the home line Rory Clegg, Wilkinson's 18-year-old stand-in, fumbled the ball and gifted possession to Worcester, who then scored the converted try that left the match tied, their captain, Pat Sanderson, diving over from a scrum in the left corner. Eoghan Hickey kicked the conversion.

It was a schoolboy error but then Clegg did start 2008 in the No 10 shirt of Barnard Castle School and, to be fair to Wilkinson's young understudy, he had been largely responsible for putting Newcastle into a potentially winning position.

"These things happen," Bates said. "You have to take them from players who are young and inexperienced."

Clegg happens to be both of those. He only turns 19 on 6 January, yet here he showed composure above his years as he put Newcastle in the driving seat, landing an equalising penalty from wide on the left then dropping a cross-field kick on to a sixpence in the right corner for Phil Dowson, the Falcons' No 8 and captain, to score the first try. Clegg added the conversion from close to the touchline and followed up with a 35-metre penalty – all of which left the Falcons 13-3 up at the end of the first quarter.

It was then that their discipline started to desert them. Hickey kicked two more penalties for Worcester and Adam Balding, Newcastle's blindside flanker, was shown a yellow card. A 13-9 half-time lead was scant reward for the Falcons' efforts but Clegg stretched the gap to seven with a penalty 12 minutes into the second half.

The Falcons then had to soak up sustained pressure; Clegg helped to relieve it, ghosting through half a gap on the left. He then undid all of his good work with an ill-judged chip ahead. He also pushed wide a penalty before making what proved to be the pivotal call of the match with 11 minutes remaining.

The teenager almost got away with his juggling act in the right-hand corner. The wing Chris Pennell was stopped just short when Worcester went left. But from the scrum that followed Sanderson drove over and Hickey kicked the conversion that left drawn expressions all round.

Newcastle: T May; T Visser, J Noon, T Tu'ipulotu, J Rudd; R Clegg, M Young (J Grindal, 59); J Golding, M Thompson, D Wilson (C Hayman, 34), T Swinson (G Parling 38-40; 59) M Sorenson, A Balding, P Dowson (capt), B Wilson.

Worcester: C Latham; R Gear, D Rasmussen, S Tuitupou, C Pennell; E Hickey, R Powell (M Powell, 61); M Mullan, A Lutui, C Horsman (T Tamoepeau, 57), G Rawlinson, C Gillies (W Bowley, 57), N Talei, K Horstmann, P Sanderson (capt).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).